Stefano doesn’t look like your stereotypical chef by any stretch of the imagination. He doesn’t show the obvious signs of a man who loves his food by way of being heavy set, yet he does have the very jovial countenance. I wondered where this man, with a very obvious Italian name but who didn’t quite have the accent to boot, came from.
He calmly sips on an espresso as he regales me with tales of his international travels. He tells me he was born in Naples, Italy, raised and trained in Switzerland and then spent the next 35 years travelling around the world, making his first stop in the Caribbean. He speaks with the enthusiasm of a child, and his eyes light up as he recounts the years he has spent honing his craft in 5 star luxury hotels and resorts in Australia and South East Asia.
Chef Stefano Verillo definitely brings with him an infectious enthusiasm, passion for food and a wealth of expertise.
“The food, the kitchen, the ambience, it just grabs you and being good with your flares, trendiness, and creativity, there’s just something about being an executive chef, that you never let go of, even though I’m more than an executive chef. I’ve served as F&B manager and also have extensive knowledge of front of house operations”
When it comes to food, he believes in keeping the dish simple; “I don’t like to manipulate by adding too many components to it. I believe it’s a thing of the past. When you order something it has to be exactly what you ordered, the items have to be on that plate and you still have to be able to identify them. I like to see what’s available in the area where I am and utilise the local produce. I believe the local growers have to be sustained.”
I was about to be treated to a menu tasting and I waited eagerly for it while I sipped a cup of palette cleansing cappuccino. I glanced over the menu in my hand and asked him to surprise me. I had come with an empty stomach just to be sure I had enough room to contain all the wonderful things I would eat that day.
My culinary adventure began with an authentic Thai beef salad; my taste buds had never been so happy to have beef in a salad. It made for quite a tantalizing treat and
I could imagine myself enjoying the dish on a stretch of white sandy beach surrounded by lush green palm trees in Thailand.
I was then transported to sunny Italy with a delectable Caprese salad, followed by the surprise I had been waiting for; a quick stop in Japan with a seared salmon Tataki. It was almost too pretty to eat and I was not disappointed; it was perfectly charred and served with a layered stack of pureed creamy avocado and beetroot. It was by far my favourite.
The dishes are served with clockwork precision by a very excited chef, beaming with joy that I am enjoying his glorious offerings.
I was introduced to the pleasure of homemade pasta, with chicken stuffed ravioli in a tangy broth, shavings of parmesan, fresh basil and served with a hunk of toasted bread drizzled with olive oil. Then came pappardelle in a rich meaty sauce that just hugged my insides, safe to say I was beginning to feel the effects of my expanding stomach. But he had more coming, and served me a mystery pizza; I still have no idea what the toppings were, I can only say that it was delightfully light and had creamy cheese on it.
My sweet tooth was fully primed for dessert and yet again Italy shone through in this one; a bright and refreshing orange panna cotta. Deeply impressed and wondering how I would get home, our chat continued. Stefano is hands down The Latitude Hotels’ new trump card when it comes to food. He prides himself on being an international traveller on the food scene and brings with him years of diverse experience in all sorts of cuisine. He hopes to add a refined touch to the hotel’s menu offerings by creating a signature line of breakfasts that will be available throughout the hotel’s restaurants in Lusaka, Lilongwe and Kampala. He also believes in including the specialty of each region on the menu and supporting the local growers as a result.
“We want to cater to not only the international clients but the local ones as well, they also want to experience their local dishes, and I take that into consideration. We launched a new menu here at Latitude 15 and it was well received. I have taken some of the dishes and revamped them, and also added a number of new totally different offerings. This is just the beginning and there is more to come. We are creating a brand; keeping it consistent and going with the trends, in terms of food and service. Everything has to match, it has to work and people have to understand and accept it. That’s the idea. That’s the mission.”
Their scratch made food is the pride and joy of The Latitude Hotels, adding to the elegant ambience and overall experience. And with their kitchens now being headed by the forward thinking Stefano, I have the utmost confidence that they will be Africa’s number one; and I will undoubtedly return with a hunger for more.